As a Dallas / Fort Wort area car accident lawyer, I cannot stress the importance of having eye-witnesses to an accident. I cannot begin to tell you how many times the at-fault driver will admit fault at the scene, and then deny fault when he realizes that there are no witnesses. Unless there is an witness or strong physical evidence to support your version of the events, don’t be surprised when the other driver changes his story. Now the case becomes a “swearing match,” with each driver claiming the other is at fault. That is why it is very important for witnesses to stay at the scene and give their information before leaving.
“I Don’t Want to Get Involved….”
For those witnesses who “do not want to get involved,” I can tell you from experience that your non-participation costs insurance companies and the judicial system much more than if you just come forward from the very beginning. That’s because the innocent driver will most likely be faced with having to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.
However, if a witness had only presented themselves from the beginning, then the case would have most likely settled without the need for filing a lawsuit. Thus, the insurance company saves money by not having to hire a lawyer and defend the case, and our judicial system saves money by not dealing with another lawsuit in an already overly-crowded court system.
Can I be a Witness if I was a Passenger?
A witness is anyone who actually saw the events surrounding the accident. This includes the drivers, passengers, pedestrians, other motorists, or anyone else who sees the accident occur. But can you be a witness if you were a passenger?” The answer is “Yes, you can.”
But this brings up the issue of “bias.” Bias refers to whether a witness is more likely to side with one person or the other, thereby effecting the reliability of their testimony. A good example would be a family member. A relative would be more likely to side with their own family. So, a witness who is related to a party may be viewed as a weaker than a witness who has no relationship with either party to the dispute.
The same goes for passengers. There is a common belief that passengers tend to side with their driver. That is because passengers are usually family, friends, girl friends, and boy friends. Likewise, their testimony may be slanted in favor of their driver. It doesn’t mean the passenger cannot be a witness. It just means that the passenger’s testimony may not be as strong as an unrelated stranger who has no connection with either party to the case.
Even an unrelated witness who does not come across very well or whose version of the accident is not very reliable, may be discredited as a witness. It all comes down to “credibility.” And, ultimately, it is a jury that decides I have seen situations where a unrelated non-party witness came across as so unreliable that the jury completely discounted there testimony and sided with the other driver who didn’t have a witness.
What should I do if I Witness a Car Accident?
If you witness a car accident, stay at the scene and offer your information. If the police are coming to the scene, then you should wait and talk only to the investigating officer. If the police are not coming to the scene, then simply write your name and contact information on two separate pieces of paper and give your information to each of the drivers.
If the drivers try to press you to tell them what you saw, just be polite and say that you do not wish to discuss it right now with either of the drivers, but that you would be more than willing to discuss the accident with the insurance companies at a later time. Your participation will help resolve the matter between the innocent party and the at-fault party’s insurance company which saves everyone a great deal of time and money.
Another thing to keep in mind is this: Wouldn’t you want a witness to help if you were in an accident? There is an old saying: “Evil flourishes when good people do nothing.” That is just as true in this context as any other.
Trackback: Had a Car Accident in Texas? What You Should Do (Or Not Do) While at the Scene.
Does it matter (in Texas) if the witnesses were in either car?
Robert C. Slim
Thank you for your excellent question. And your comment actually prompted me to re-write my post to address this issue. I hope the new information in my post will help you. Thanks again for your comment.
I have a quick question in regards to being a witness to an accident. are there any particular laws or LEGAL obligations in after witnessing an accident? I know that there are moral and conscious obligations, but I’m curious as to the legal requirements to witnessing an accident. Any help or direction would be greatly appreciated!!
—In case you’re wondering, I witnessed an accident last night and I did stop, render aid, and give a statement to the investigating officer. I just want to know whether I was legally required to do those things (mainly give statement to the police, but the others as well) or not.
Robert C. Slim
Under Texas law, there is no obligation to stop and render any sort of assistance unless you are actually involved in the accident. I do not know if there are any such legal requirements in other states. You should stop if you witness an accident and give your version of events. I applaud you for doing so. You might later get contacted by the drivers’ insurance companies who would also like to get your version of events. I recommend you cooperate in that respect also. The only thing I would caution you against is giving any kind of recorded interview or written statement to the insurance companies. This is because the party who you say is at fault may try to use your recorded statement to ambush you with it later on in the case. If you are asked, just tell them you don’t feel comfortable being recorded but that you would be glad to discuss the accident with them. You are not required to give the insurance company any recorded statements no matter what they say.
Mike – Auto Insurance Claims
I was once involved in a car accident, but it wasn’t my fault. It’s good that somebody saw what happened and helped me with the investigation. I appreciate what th witness did for me. I was able to get my auto insurance claims the next week.
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